FATE: PSYCHIC FRONTIERS: DECEMBER 2000 1
FATE DECEMBER 2000
USS HORNET UPDATE
In my October column, I stated that I'd have more to report about our
investigation of the USS Hornet. That's going to have to wait now until
February, as due to circumstances beyond our control, relating to the internal
politics of the Foundation and a slight problem caused by the Oakland TRIBUNE
(not Angela Hill's article, but the editorially created front page blurb unfortunately
calling the carrier a "Ship of Ghouls), we haven't been back there.
Our next scheduled jaunt is coming up only a few short days after my deadline
for this column, so I will update the case in February's column.
Did you catch the new paranormal TV series that ran first on NBC and is now
MYSTERIOUS WAYS might be considered an X-FILES for the non-government set.
Starring Adrian Pasdar as an anthropologist intensely interested in the mysterious,
miraculous and paranormal, and Rae Dawn Chong as a psychiatrist who
(seemingly unwillingly) works with him, the show goes for a very different take on
psychic and other phenomena than previous series.
What's different? The reported and investigated phenomena often seems quite
comparable to events and experiences real people report. Pasdar's character,
Declan Dunn, goes in with an intense curiosity and the sense of wonder shared
by many of my colleagues and me. He clearly wants to find a "miracle" or
something truly "psychic," but he's also looking at every possible angle for normal
explanations, explanations that are sometimes found. He accepts the normal over
the paranormal with a little regret, but no real pushback. To help him look for
such explanations, he brings in both his psychiatrist crony, and a university
student who is a whiz at physical science and analysis, played in a very
brooding manner by Alisen Down (as Miranda).
Chong's psychiatrist, Peggy Fowler, behaves and speaks like many of the
mainstream scientists I've met, without being a "that can't happen" kind of skeptic.
She doesn't seem the type to join the Committee for Scientific Investigation of
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Claims of the Paranormal. even though she is a skeptic. Through contact with
Declan, Peggy appears to be loosening up and even enjoying "the hunt" a little.
Peppered throughout the episodes are snatches of Declan's university anthropology
lectures. I find these tidbits of cultural trivia fascinating, partly because I was a
cultural anthro major in my undergrad days, and because they fit so well into the
context of the characters and the series.
FEAR NO SPIRITS…
I was recently called in on a case in Berkeley, CA by a couple of mid-20s
women who apparently had a ghost show up shortly after they moved into the
house. The house is a few decades old, but one point that differs from many
ghost cases is that the ghost apparently had nothing to do with the history of
the house or either of the two women.
One of the two roommates, Karen, had grown up part of her life in the house.
Her parents had split up, moved out, and rented the place out for a number of
years. No previous tenants reported anything out of the ordinary.
Shortly after Karen and roommate Emily moved into the house, Emily felt like she
was being watched, and saw a male figure standing in a doorway across the
living room. The figure appeared startled that Emily had seen him, and
vanished. A week later, a friend of theirs was walking to the house and saw a
male figure walking up the stairs to the door. When she got to the house, the
man had vanished. When this friend told Emily, Emily told her and Karen about
her own experience.
Both sightings had occurred early evening on a Thursday.
Two weeks later, again on a Thursday, Emily saw the figure again, this time
walking from the Kitchen to the Living room.
The next Thursday, Emily was out on their deck and heard voices from inside
the house. She went in and found the TV in the living room on, though she
hadn't turned it on and Karen was out. She left the room and it came back
on again. She turned it off again, and the TV in Karen's room (which required
one to pull out a knob) came on.
The following Thursday, Emily left the house by 6 PM, leaving on the living room
light and the porch lights for Karen, as usual. Karen came home around 9:30
to find all the lights on --- even the lights in all the closets.
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It was at this point that I was called, having been referred to me by someone
connected to JFK University.
I went in the first two visits with one of our novice investigators, Dinny Anderson,
and spoke at length with both girls, and inspected the house. Nothing we
uncovered could explain the physical manifestations, though both of us got a
feeling that "someone" was watching us to see what we'd do.
While Emily was somewhat ill at ease, and almost frightened by the events, it
became clear that nothing, at that point, indicated anything malicious on the part
of a "ghost." In fact, to me it seemed that turning on all the lights would be
something to scare off any intruders and to welcome home the occupants of the
We were told that after our visit, Karen and friends were seated in the living
room and all watched as the TV began flipping channels on its own, and her
bedroom TV (the one with the knob) came back on. Apparently, the "ghost" was
trying to get people's attention.
We returned several days later with Stache Margaret Murray, the psychic with
whom I'd been working on the USS Hornet case. Emily had already "gotten" a
name ("Harold") which was one of two Stache picked up on.
Stache perceived Harold as a late 20s guy who died in a car accident in the
neighborhood several years before. Strangely enough, the things she picked up
on him seemed to connect to Emily and Karen's social lifestyle. Apparently,
Harold was a party kind of animal, and so are the two women.
Stache further got that Harold missed his life, and had been rummaging around
the neighborhood in hopes that someone would perceive him, and allow him to
make some kind of connection to work off his regret at his life being cut so
short. Emily apparently was unaware that she was somewhat psychic, though
contact with Harold and Stache have opened that avenue a bit more.
Harold means no harm to the women. He just wants to party. Karen and
Emily are not afraid at all anymore, having set boundaries for Harold (which they
stated aloud and which Stache reinforced), so Harold is essentially a welcomed
member of their social circle.
I, myself, picked up something interesting about Harold (once in a while, I do get
those flashes of insight). He had a sense of humor that I felt needed to be
curbed around the women. When I stated that, Stache laughed and said
Harold's reply was "Aye Captain." Stache thought Harold was referring to our
investigation of the Hornet, which we'd talked to the women about in his
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"presence." I shook my head as the image of William Shatner as Captain Kirk
popped into my head. "No, he's a Star Trek fan. "
Stache's mouth dropped open, followed by a laugh. Apparently, Harold had
confirmed the Trek connection. "That's why he likes you," said Stache, " your
sense of humor and your being a Star Trek fan."
"I'd say 'Live Long and Prosper,'" I replied with tongue planted in cheek, "but it's
a little late for that. " Stache laughed (because, she later said, Harold "cracked
Is there a ghost in the house in Berkeley? I believe there is, based on the
subjective experiences of the two women, the objectively observed phenomena, the
perceptions Dinny and I received, and Stache's assessment.
Can we prove it? Nope, though our EMF meters did get some very unusual
and inexplicable readings whenever Harold was "sensed" in the room. The
readings help corroborate that "something" unusual was happening, but can't be
assessed as "proof" of a ghost.
But our goal was to help the women deal with what was becoming a frightening
experience. We did that, and hopefully provided a little help to Harold as well.
THE INTERNATIONAL GHOST HUNTERS SOCIETY
The International Ghost Hunters Society has been wildly successful in spreading
their teachings of "ghosts are everywhere" and methods by which people can take
photos of the orbs that represent them. While I believe Dave Oester and
Sharon Gill to be sincere people, I really wish they'd learn something about
science, evidence collection, methodological analysis, and especially parapsychology.
I need to set the record straight here. In my August column in FATE, I
discussed methodological and conceptual problems with accepting unusual photos
as "proof" or even evidence of a ghost encounter. In a response by Sharon Gill
in the August 6 issue of the IGHS online newsletter, she clearly showed her lack
of knowledge of the literature of the field of Parapsychology, which has been
looking at spirit and other psychic phenomena for over 100 years.
Coming from a position that "ghosts are everywhere," it's no wonder that
photographic anomalies can be judged as "ghosts." However, where is the
evidence that "ghosts are everywhere?" If they use the photos of the orbs as
that evidence, then there is clear circular logic happening: ghosts are everywhere
because photos of orbs can be taken everywhere which proves ghosts are
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In addition, such a position would be harmed by any other psychic explanation
for the photos. Gill states " The notion of the photographer projecting something
due to his or her expectations, is difficult to swallow" with regards to my
suggestion that we can't rule out psychokinesis. Apparently, even though there is
evidence to the contrary (see, most notably, Jule Eisenbud's book THE WORLD
OF TED SERIOS), PK by the living is more difficult to swallow than the idea
that "ghosts are everywhere." I wonder what she thinks about poltergeist cases?
Human experiences do not indicate that ghosts are everywhere (with the exception
of certain psychics, many of whom are questionable in their abilities and biases).
The studies within and around the field of Parapsychology (and its predecessor,
Psychical Research) do not indicate that ghosts are "everywhere," but in fact are
a rare phenomenon.
On the other hand, research and investigation points more towards people
perceiving past events and people in locations, as though the location has
absorbed or recorded some of its history. Call them hauntings or place
memories or what you will, but the ghostly figures seen in most reported ghost
sightings behave repetitively and with little display of interaction or intelligence.
What I was pointing out in my August column is that there is little to connect
the orbs with ghosts, other than the belief system. Could they be caused by
some other physical anomaly at the location… perhaps the same energetic "field"
that might record the location's history? How do we know these orbs are not
some other undiscovered life-form?
Yes, these orb photos and the causes behind them are interesting and very
worthy of study (perhaps one of the camera or film manufacturers should be
approached?). But to state with certainty that they are photos of spirits, just as
to state with certainty that "ghosts are everywhere" is to come from a belief
system, and one not based on the thousands of sightings and cases reviewed or
investigated by parapsychologists and psychical researchers over the last century.
Parapsychology is trying to understand psychic phenomena. While I will agree
that many of my colleagues are very conservative, especially when considering the
evidence for survival of bodily death, there is effort made to find and understand
the appropriate experiences and evidence. If we don't eliminate all other non-
psychic, non-apparitional possibilities first, how do we know what we're studying is
even close to what we think it is?
Apparitions, ghosts, are defined by the subjective experiences of the living, not by
photos. A photo of an orb as "proof" of a ghost is no better than a photo of
a UFO as "proof" of an extraterrestrial craft. The orbs themselves (since they
float) can be considered UFOs. As the late Dr. J. Allen Hynek, leading
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astronomer and UFO researcher once said, all we can do is study the reports of
UFOs (including photos), not the UFOs themselves.
Equipment, from cameras to EMF detectors, can only help validate the human
experience of a ghostly or haunting encounter. They can help us look for
environmental patterns that will connect to those experiences. But until science
comes up with a method to detect consciousness (spirit, soul) where we know it
is --- in the bodies of the living --- how can we state with any certainty that
such a "reading" on a device or a photo of an "orb" is an indication that a
ghost is present.
Again, I applaud the IGHS for their efforts and organization. I just wish they'd
back off from being "right" and consider that there's much to learn before we
can declare that "ghosts are everywhere." Spiritualists they are, scientists they're